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At work with

Francesca Gavin, Epoch

Francesca Gavin is an editor, writer and curator with 20 years of experience in contemporary art and culture. She’s also a contributing editor to Twin, Kaleidoscope and Beauty Papers, and you’ll recognise her byline from Blau International, Hero, Cura and Frieze.

Together with creative director Leonard Vernet she’s just launched a new magazine, Epoch, that combines ideas from the past in the context of the contemporary. It’s a big bold new launch that makes the most of Francesca’s long experience of publishing. Surprisingly, perhaps, it’s the first magazine she has launched herself.


Wooden desk with open laptop and neat piles of papers


What are you up to this morning?
I am in my fantasy altbau in Vienna, where I have been living for the past two and half years. This is my last week in the apartment before I head back to the UK, so it’s very bittersweet.


White woman sat at desk with laptop and piles of paper and work


The whole of the debut issue Epoch was created over zoom with the creative director and publisher Leonard Vernet in Paris and me in this 19th century apartment. Like most days, I am settling down the regular morning flurry of coffee, emails, excel tables, and writing tons of lists. I’m obsessed with paper—I am always surrounded by neat piles, have a per week notebook and a per month diary. I don’t really trust technology when it comes to organising my day! I always miss things.


Tall white building with multiple windows


Describe your desk and your work space.
My living room table faces windows overlooking an art nouveau building topped by incredible artist studios owned by the city. It is a bit of a fish bowl and I often see the old ladies across the road come out and watch the street below. One used their balcony as a pantry and was chilling some celery outside.


Unframed canvas hangs on plain wall


Usually I’m listening to NTS, where I also have a radio show. In particular Ross Allen’s Soup for Nuts, Louise Chen or Flo on the breakfast show. If I really need to work it’s a lyric-free background of Michel Legrand piano music or Miles Davis. To encourage thought, I’ve kept the walls pretty clean of art, bar a few canvases from friends including a portrait of me as a daisy reading a book with my washing machine painted by Cecilie Norgaard that I love (above).


Magazine cover with an early portrait of the five boys of Take That


Which magazine do you first remember?
I was obsessed with magazines from the age of 12, and was buying two or three a week as soon as I had any pocket money, from Just Seventeen to Vogue. I still can easily spend £100 when the new issues come out. Smash Hits was probably the first one I was properly addicted to (aside from ‘The Great Artists’ weekly part work.)

Smash Hits’ humour was so off key and random and I think very influential on an entire generation. I always remember that Neil Tennant from Pet Shop Boys began there. It really embodied the aesthetic of a particular pop, plastic, trash moment. And you could get the song lyrics to people like Salt N Pepa and Glen Medeiros in the centrefold, which still informs my joy of karaoke.


Magazine cover with bright illustrations


Which magazine matters to you the most this morning?
The stunning 1960s counter culture publication Avant Garde, which is now all archived online. Although very period, it is one of the publications I often come back to for its fusion of art and a wider sense of culture and context. I lived in Woodstock, Ne York between the age of five and 10 and I’ve always been influenced by the leftovers of the era and its particular fusion of the aesthetic and meaningful. Where even DIY publishing was a way to create new ways of living. It also looks cool.


Animated gif of the front covers of Epoch


Describe Epoch in three words.
History meets Now.


You've contributed to so many magazines, what made you decide to launch your own title?
I’ve contributed pretty much every magazine or newspaper that exists! Leonard, formerly half of Ill Studio, came up with concept for Epoch and approached me. It felt it was overdue time to do my own thing.

The title was actually a fantasy name for a magazine I made up when I was 21, to blag free books from publishers. We wanted to create a space for new ideas emerging from the past—something trans-historical, bringing archaeology, anthropology, science, technology, philosophy. Yet at the same time reflecting the aesthetic awareness of generations of people brought on sophisticated fashion and style publications. It was a chance to pick up where something like the National Geographic left off, but with a very contemporary cultural, political and aesthetic point of view.


Spread from first issue of Epoch: on left, a damaged yellow sculpture of a human head, on right, a topless man in yellow hard hat

A spread from Epoch: on left an image of a woman holding up an iPhone; on right, an ancient sculpture with hand hel aloft as if taking a selfie.


Epoch is a bold attempt to address culture through history. How successful do you feel the first issue has been at doing that?
I think we created the publication of our dreams and completely fulfilled our brief. Epoch opens with a 20 page visual essay, juxtaposing contemporary and history objects and images, highlighting conceptual and aesthetic parallels (above).


Black and white double-page portrait of Laraaji


We commissioned some incredible pieces—Thomas Cristiani going behind the scenes of a Paris museum, Camille Vivier exploring the idea of beauty with images of trans women and historic sculpture, SUUM and Area of Work creating futuristic objects out of ancient artefacts, a looked at the shelves at the newly launched International Fashion Library in Oslo, an interview with Laraaji (above), one of the inventors of ambient music etc. There is an interest in the archive but the magazine is in no way old fashioned.



Highlight one story that sums up the magazine
Each issue includes a thematic dossier summarising the loose theme of the issue. Our initial theme was ritual, which included a thematic introduction, archive and contemporary art imagery, a photographic story on 1990s free party raves by Seana Gavin (above) and an interview with Dr Paul Liknaitzky on cutting edge psychedelic research (below). That cross between innovation and the past, art and science, society and philosophy is very Epoch.


What one piece of advice would you offer somebody wanting to launch their own publication?
If you can, go big. Epoch is almost 400 pages and weighs around 2kg! We did 12 different covers from contributors including Wolfgang Tillmans, Lea Colombo, Torbjorn Rodland, Jonas Lindstroem, Dexter Navy, Nabil, Ari Marcopoulos – essentially a who’s who of contemporary photographic artists. If we were going to create a publication, we wanted it to be the most beautiful, coherent, engaging and smart thing we could make.


What are you most looking forward to this coming week?
As it is my last week in Vienna for a while, I intend to go to every beautiful place in the city including Loos Bar, Café Sperl and finally the cemetery where Carol Reed filmed the final scene in The Third Man.



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